The Indian Quarterly
A Sensuous Geometry Image Credit: The Indian Quarterly
A Sensuous Geometry Image Credit: The Indian Quarterly

A Sensuous Geometry

A chance encounter leads a poet to an epiphany. Arundhathi Subramaniam on how she rediscovered Bharatanatyam, a lost childhood love

Arundhathi Subramaniam

MY LOVE OF CLASSICAL DANCE started early. As did, I confess, my impatience. At first, poetry and dance seemed equally magical, sharing much in common. Prose (or at least my perception of grown-up speech) seemed to be rudimentary locomotive language—pedestrian and unsurprising. But poetry was language that danced. It was language with turbines. Kinetic language. It could leap, resist gravity. Like dance, it could fly.

I remember first watching Bharatanatyam as an enthralled four-year-old, dazzled by the beauty of its costume and ornamentation, its sensuous iconography. There was also an inarticulate excitement about the throbbing geometry of the form, its pulsating lines, its vigour, its exactitude.

It was in my adolescence that the discomfort began. That the dominant preoccupation was love didn’t bother me. Indeed, I relished the stylisation, the grandeur and heightened intensity of emotion. I could see that unreliable male lovers were not exactly a dated preoccupation. I even empathised. It was the servility of love that troubled me: the fact that so much poetry seemed to feature women whose lives were entirely predicated on the presence (and often, absence) of their lovers. And was this preening and pouting, this farcical spectacle of self-decoration and mock-rebuke a real resolution? Surely, as viewers, we deserved something more psychologically credible, less stereotypic, more true? Besides, if growing up meant becoming a puppe


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